Finding the right place to stay when you come to New York for the first time is a big challenge. There are many options available in both the style and location of accommodation and while the success of your choice may not make or break your holiday, it will make a big difference to your overall experience. I have recommended a couple of hotels in the past year, but increasingly I am being asked about private apartments and which are the best areas to stay.
I have written and rewritten this article trying not to be bossy about what I consider to be the best locations in the city. Wherever you stay, you will have an interesting experience of NYC and does it really matter if it’s not perfect? Well, the thing is I do feel a sense of responsibility, and want everyone who takes the time to listen to the ABC or read my stories here, to be rewarded and go home happy. So throwing budgets, prejudices and adventure into the mix, here are some suggestions….
NYC is changing constantly and there are great reasons to visit lots of different neighbourhoods. For example, I love to explore the East Village for eateries, Tompkins Square Park and vibe – but I wouldn’t really want to stay there. I enjoy the bike ride up the Hudson River on the west side, but much of the west side is miles from the subway and those Trump towers from 59th to 72nd are isolated and forbidding. So choosing an area comes down to what you want to do here, how fit you are and what your priorities are.
The subway map will give you a perspective of neighbourhoods and an insight into how easy it will be for you to get around by public transport. For example if you stay within walking distance of the green 6 line on the east side you will be one subway ride away from most of the city’s museums, Grand Central, Union Square, Noho, Soho, Little Italy, China Town, East Village and Town Hall / Brooklyn Bridge. Alternatively if you stay at Washington Heights on the Upper West Side you will have to change lines twice to get to the Museum Mile and you will certainly not be able to walk there with comfort.
For distance, when you look at a map of Manhattan, count about one minute per street ( if you are briskly stepping it out ) and about 5 minutes per avenue. Use this formula to know how long it will take you to get from the subway to an apartment. You can see that if you were considering staying on 11th avenue and West 29th street, you would have about a 20 minute walk to get to the subway. This may not be a problem unless you have been walking all day and are exhausted, and you decide to look for a cab around 3pm. Mid to late afternoon is changeover time for cabs and it can be a real test of skill, luck, or simple bloodymindedness to find one and grab it before someone else does.
Boroughs. I would always recommend that you stay in Manhattan first and only in Brooklyn if you are near the bridge. When you have put so much energy into getting here, you may as well be in the thick of it. When you step out of your front door that first morning you want to be able to say ‘Hello New York!’ without having to yell too loudly. Also, Manhattan is a walking town, so if you stay on the grid, you are giving yourself the advantage of time with the opportunity to make discoveries as you wander along.
Unless you had a particular reason to stay, say, in Harlem or around Columbia University on the upper west side, I would look for an apartment from about 86th street on the east side, and 75th on the west side, down. Generally stay away from the edges unless you are athletic or have access to bikes. Remember that Times Square is noisy and sometimes crazy, China town is not great in the summertime and there is an intense tourist area on the southern side of Central Park. That leaves many options and a google-fest of cross checks for your areas of interest ( and just in case, bed bugs. Mid recession there was a problem, and even if it doesn’t exist now, it will give you a point of reference. )
The villages – East, Greenwich and West, are full of interesting restaurants and have a great atmosphere. Washington Park is close by, you have the Hudson and East rivers on either side, and tons of history. But apartments in this area will tend to be walk-ups ( no lift ) and no doorman. So if you don’t like stairs and want the security of a 24 hour doorman look to east midtown, upper east side, around Columbus Circle, the theatre district and the upper west side. Gramercy / Flatiron is a great area, parts of Chelsea are OK, and Tribeca, Soho and the Financial District are trendy and transitional.
Google satellite maps can give you lots of help with locations by providing a street view which can provide an insight into the character of the neighbourhood. Again looking at the 11th and 29th location, you can see in the photo attached that the area is industrial. This google view may be slightly out of date, but it nevertheless gives you a feel for the area. New Apartment blocks are set between nightclubs ( Scores is a block away ) and car parks. If you are looking to be surrounded by brownstones, or jazz clubs or restaurants, then keep looking.
About security with Airbnb, I have friends who have used this service with great success. What makes it a little tentative is that you are dealing with individual owners of apartments rather than a hotel where there is always someone on the front desk to answer your call or inquiry. But the internet is full of information so you should be able to check the people and place out first. If people don’t respond to your email, try the next place. If they are so bad at communicating imagine arriving at the front door after a 24 hour flight and finding there’s no-one waiting to meet you…!
I would really appreciate anyone having a great experience with Airbnb in NYC contacting me so I can pass the information on. Similarly if anyone in NYC has an apartment they want to showcase to potential visitors from Down Under, then please let me know. In the meanwhile I will continue to look for good value, central accommodation in the Big Apple and let you know what I find…
*** A regular Australian visitor to NYC kindly wrote to me and recommended Flipkey as being a very reliable source of good apartments. Thanks Heather!